Last week when GM was writing about the debate over Georgetown University’s Ten Year Plan, he mentioned that ultimately the best way to tackle the transportation challenges facing the university and the neighborhood would be for both parties to get behind the effort to bring a Metro stop to Georgetown. This comment led a reader to write to GM and ask what the status of that effort is.
Rather than just answer that question, GM thought he’d take this opportunity to write about all he knows about a Metro stop in Georgetown: why we don’t have one and why we may yet get one (eventually).
Why There is No Georgetown Metro
If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this: the reason there is no Metro station in Georgetown has absolutely nothing to do with neighborhood opposition. Nothing. No “rich Georgetowners wanted to keep out minorities”-conspiracy. No matter how much it fits with the popular stereotype, it’s just not true.
As rigorously documented in Zachary Schrag’s Great Society Subway, the planners behind Metro simply never seriously considered putting a station in Georgetown. The reason: the Potomac. To get under the river, the Metro tunnel has to start heading down far enough away so that it’s not like a roller-coaster.
Commercial Georgetown is very close to the river and on a steep hill, which wouldn’t give the tunnel much distance to reemerge from underneath the river. Thus a Georgetown station would be extremely deep. It would be physically possible to build, but it would be extremely expensive.
And the Metro planners didn’t see a reason to spend that sort of money on Georgetown. In the 1960s when the plans were developed, Georgetown had little office space and few apartment buildings. It simply was not a destination of suburban commuters. Since that was the audience for which the Metro was primary designed to serve, Georgetown was not considered a worthwhile station location.
That’s it. No matter how affirming of all the stereotypes of Georgetowners the myth is, it’s absolutely false.
Why There May Someday Finally Be a Georgetown Metro
In 2013, the first phase of the new Silver Line will open. As planned, the Silver Line will branch off of the Orange Line at East Falls Church and head out to Tyson’s Corner and onwards to Dulles and beyond. Since the Silver Line will share tracks with the Orange Line from East Falls Church to Rosslyn and the Blue and the Orange Lines from Rosslyn eastward, the Silver Line will ultimately add a significant amount of riders to already overburdened rails.
As far back as 2001, Metro recognized that the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom could not handle the increase in traffic that would be necessary once the Silver Line opened. Metro proposed as a solution to split the Blue Line from the Orange Line through the center of DC. The map above, which was produced by the Washington Post at the time Metro proposed this solution, shows the plan. The new Blue Line would go under the Potomac in a new tunnel and then head east underneath M St., rejoining its old route at Stadium Armory.
This new line would include a station for Georgetown. Metro planners would still face all the challenges they faced in the 1960s when they decided not to build a station here, but now they would likely consider it worth the cost.
The 2001 plan disappeared from the discussion pretty soon after it was floated. In 2008, Metro staffers revived the plan again when they drafted a report to the Metro board detailing necessary long term capital projects. As in 2001, the 2008 plan vanished into the ether pretty soon after it was produced.
The fact is that this project would cost a lot of money. A lot, lot of money. And the costs would be born mainly by the District. And in case you didn’t notice, we don’t have the cash. We’re looking at a $600 million shortfall for next year. Of course, a project like this is such a long term project that yearly budget waxings and wanings probably shouldn’t matter.
Moreover, unlike stations like the youngish Columbia Heights station, the stations on the split Blue Line would mostly be in already developed neighborhoods. So new development would be unlikely to defray much of the cost. (Unless, of course, raising the height cap downtown was on the table.)
But the first phase of the Silver Line is opening in 2013, and the line should be complete by the end of this decade. While rerouting the Blue Line across the 14th St. bridge could mitigate the pain for a while, ultimately we’re going to need a new tunnel underneath the Potomac.
And when Metro and the city realize that they can’t kick the can any further down the road, serious planning for the split Blue Line will begin. GM doesn’t have a clue when that day may come. Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Who knows. But what GM does know is that no serious objection to a Georgetown Metro stop will arise.
And when that glorious day comes and Metro finally opens a Georgetown stop, there will still be lazy journalists writing articles about how Georgetowners finally “allowed” a Metro stop. Hopefully the Georgetown Metropolitan will still be around to correct them…